Palestine under the Ottomans (1516-1918)


Figure 1.--Here we see an unidentified boy in Jerusalem holding a whip. Palestine was then a province in the Ottoman Empire. The cabinet card is undated, but was probably taken in the 1880s. Most early photography in the Arab world was taken by Europeans or in this case Armenians. The back of the card read Photographie du Couvent Arménien. The word 'Couvent' meand brood in French, I think it may have meant the Armenian Quarter in the city. There is also some text in German abd then some very small text, 'K. Kraiwatak en Wien (Vienna). That may have been where the photographic card stock was printed. The imagerry on the back is very un-Islamic, so we suspect the boy is not an Arab. We woukd guess he is Armenian. He seems dressed in Turkish fashions, including what looks like a fez and baggy pants. We are not sure that Arabs liked to have their photographs taken and many did not have the money even if they wangted a portrait.

Palestine in the mid-19th century when Jewish writers began conceiving pf returning was a province of the declining Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Turks conquered Palestine (1516). Local governors appointed by the Ottomans collected revenues which was forwarded to Constntinople. Thee Ottomans promoted important public works. Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem (1537). The Druse attenpted to establish their own state in northern Palestine during the early Ottoman era. Napoleon conducted one of his earliest campaigns in the Middle East, seizing Cairo and areas in Palestine (1798). He took Jaffa, Ramle, Lydda, Nazareth and Tiberias, but was unable to take Acre. A Royal Navy squadron under Nelson destoyed the French fleet and made Napoleon's position untenable. Mehemet Ali of Egypt seized Palestine from the Ottomans. His son Ibrahim Pasha leading Egyptian troops took Acre (1831). The local Palestinian population revolted (1834). After considerableturmoil, the Ottomans regained control of Palestine (1840). The Palestinian Arab population played a role in the political reforms seeking to modernize the Ottoman Empire (1876 and 1908). Ottoman Palestine consisted of two administrative areas. There was the autnomous Sanjak (district) of Jerusalem which was subject to the High Porte in Constantinople. The Sanjak included an area from Jaffa to the River Jordan in the East and from the Jordan south to the borders of Egypt. The other area was part of the Willayat (province) of Beirut. This part was composed of the Sanjak of Balka (Nablus) from Jaffa to Jenin, and the Sanjak of Acre, which extended from Jenin to Naqura. Palestiniaqn Arabs had many important political and military posts under Ottoman rule. The Ottoman Empire was evolving in the late 19th century abd the plitical reforms resulted in a constitution and parliment. There were Arab representatives in the Parliament. In the first Parliament, the President of the Council of the House of Representatives was a Jerusalem Deputy , Yusif Dia Pasha Al Khalidi. The administration of Arab territories was entrusted to elected Administrative Councils. Those Councils were elected and existed in the provinces, districts, and sub-districts. Those Councils were vested with extensive powers in administration, finance, education, and development. The Ottoman Empire was, however, by the 19th century politically unstable. While the Empire was controlled by Turks, they were a minority within the Empire which included large number of Balkan Christians, Armenians, and Arabs. The Young Turks that seized control of the Government were not about to relinquish control to non-Turkish groups. Palestine remained under Ottoman rule until World War I. It is difficut to know the political attitudes of Palestinians to Ottoman rule. It was from the desert tribes, supported by the British, however, that effective resistace to Ottoman rule came after the Ottomans entered the War on the side of the Central Powers.

Conquest (1516)

Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II (reigned 1481-1512) gave considerable attention to his navy and he used to extend the reach of Ottoman power in the Mediterranean. His navy joined by the North African corsairs managedto displace Venice and Genoa as the dominate naval power in the eastern and central Mediterranean. Selim I known to history as Selim the Grim drove south conquering the Arab lands of Syria and Palestine which had been rukled by the Egyptian Mamluks (1516). They were made provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Continued his campaign, Selim drove the last of the Mamluk sultans from his Cairo throne (1517). Egypt was made a a satellite of the Ottoman Empire. Selim I was also recognized as guardian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. With the effective control of the holy cities, the Ottoman sultans acquired the title of caliph.

Origins

Just who the modern Palestinians are is a matter of conjecture. Palestinian Arabs claim various lines of descentsome of which seem more legend than fact. The Nusseibeh family claim to have descened from the Arab invaders under Omar (about 640). The Dajani claim descent from an Arabian knight, The Husseini family seem to be associated wuth with Ottoman invaders (1510s). The Nashashibi family are apparently descended from Bowmen of Salah Eddin. Izzedin Al Qassam, the Palestinian national hero, was born in Syria.

Ottoman Rule

Local governors appointed by the Ottomans collected revenues which was forwarded to Constntinople. Thee Ottomans promoted important public works. Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem (1537).

The Druse

The Druse attenpted to establish their own state in northern Palestine during the early Ottoman era.

Other Ethnic Grouos

The Ottoman Empire was a multi-ethnic empire. The Turks were a minority in the Empire. Various Christian nationalities dominated the Balkans. There were Greeks and Armenians in Anatolia. And the Levant was dominated by Arabs. Im Palesrine there were many minorities, especially in Jerusalem. This included European, Amnians, and Jews.

Ottoman Policies toward Jews


Napoleonic Campaign (1798-1801)

Napoleon conducted one of his earliest campaigns in the Middle East (1798). He decided that if he seized Egypt, at the time a British protectorate, he could disrupt the supply line of the British Empire. The Suez Canal was not yet built, but organizing a portage, Egypt was still the cloest trade route to India. He proceeded to invade Egypt. It proved go be a serious error. At the time Egypt under a British protectorate was ruled by the Mamelukes. They were the descedents of slaves who became soldiers and then warlords in Egypt. Napoleon seized Cairo and areas in Palestine (1798). He took Jaffa, Ramle, Lydda, Nazareth and Tiberias, but was unable to take Acre. After the initial victories, the Egyptian campign proved a disaster. A romantic aura surronded the campaign and France and Britain were swept with an interest in archeology and Egyptology. Napoleon enlisted 167 scholars to accompany the military. While Napoleon was engaging the Mamelukes with considerable success, Lord Nelson was searing for the French fleet and the opportunity to engage it. The Royal Navy squadron finally located tge Frebch fleet. Nelson defeated the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile fought in Aboukir Bay (1799). [Meyerson] This isolated the French army. Napoleon soon found himself engaged not only with the Mamelukes, but the British and Ottomons as well. This made the French position untenable. In the end, Napoleon abandoned his army and eluded the British fleet to get back to France. When Napoleon arrived back in France, he found the governent about to collapse. Napoleon seized control of the government. Some historians look on this as the end of the French Revolution. Meanwhile the French forces in Egypt wwre cut off and forced to surrender (1801). As part of the surrender they were forced to hand over the Egyptian trasures and antiquities many of which can now be found in London museums today. One of those was the Rosetta Stone which proved to be the key to deciphering ancient Egyption hieroglyphics.

Egyptian/ Arab Revolt (1831-40)

The Ottomans comquered the Levant (1516) and turned Egypt into a sattelite state (1517). As Ottoman power began to decline, Egypt was able to exert an increasing degree of indeoendence. Mehemet/Muhammad Ali was nominally the Ottoman Govenor of Egypt, but by 1830 was essentially an independent ruler. He seized Palestine from the Ottomans. This was a period in which the Ottomons were struggling to retain control of Greece and called on Muhammad Ali for military assistance aginst the Greeks. Mehemet Ali's son Ibrahim Pasha leading Egyptian troops took Acre (1831). The local Palestinian population in turn reolted against Mehemet Ali (1834). Ottomon authorities generally protected minority groups throughout the Empire. With Ottomon control thrown off, Palestinian Arabs apparently targeted the Jewish minority. Muhammad Ali to build his army attempted to conscript the Muslimm Palestinians. The Palestinians, however, resisted service in Muhammad's army. Kassam Lakhama in Nablus called for a Palestinian revolt. They were joined by peasants (fellahin) in the surronding villages. They marched on Jerusalem and seized it (May 31). Rioters began attacking Christians and Jews, but the rebel commander ordered that stopped. Ibrahim Pasha, with a substantial force reached Jerusalem (June 3) and the rebels fled. The Jews at Safed were not so lucky. The Palestinians attacked the Jews there. This appears to have been a dresful pogrom. After considerableturmoil, the Ottomans regained control of Palestine from the Egyptians (1840).

Economic Situation

The question arises as to the economic status of Palesinians under Ottoman rule. We have noted references to the people being very poor. This seems to have been the general situation for Arabs living within the Ottoman Empire. This seems to be a fair statement. We do not have any detailed information such as actual income levels. This is of interest because the Israelis contend that Jewish immigration brought prosperity to Palestine while the Arabs complain that the Jews have exploited Palestinians. Not do we know how the Palesinians compared to other Arab populations inside and beyond the Ottoman Empire. One source suggests that Palestine was one of the poorest regions within the Ottoman Empire. We canot yet confirm that this was the case. We do note Palestine being described by travelers as an arid and largely uninhabited wasteland. One traveler describes Da, rather daming with fait praise, "Here were evidences of cultivation — a rare sight in this country — an acre or two of rich soil studded with last season’s dead corn-stalks of the thickness of your thumb and very wide apart. But in such a land it was a thrilling spectacle. Close to it was a stream, and on its banks a great herd of curious-looking Syrian goats and sheep were gratefully eating gravel. I do not state this as a petrified fact — I only suppose they were eating gravel, because there did not appear to be any thing else for them to eat." [Twain, Ch. 46.] Later he described Magdala near Tiberias with brutal clarity, "MAGDALA is not a beautiful place… The streets of Magdala are any where from three to six feet wide, and reeking with uncleanliness. The houses are from five to seven feet high, and all built upon one arbitrary plan — the ungraceful form of a dry-goods box. The sides are daubed with a smooth white plaster, and tastefully frescoed aloft and alow with disks of camel-dung placed there to dry. This gives the edifice the romantic appearance of having been riddled with cannon-balls, and imparts to it a very warlike aspect…. There are no windows to a Syrian hut, and no chimneys. When I used to read that they let a bed-ridden man down through the roof of a house in Capernaum to get him into the presence of the leader, I generally had a three-story brick in my mind, and marveled that they did not break his neck with the strange experiment. I perceive now, however, that they might have taken him by the heels and thrown him clear over the house without discommoding him very much. Palestine is not changed any since those days, in manners, customs, architecture, or people. As we rode into Magdala not a soul was visible. But the ring of the horses’ hoofs roused the stupid population, and they all came trooping out — old men and old women, boys and girls, the blind, the crazy, and the crippled, all in ragged, soiled and scanty raiment, and all abject beggars by nature, instinct and education. How the vermin-tortured vagabonds did swarm! How they showed their scars and sores, and piteously pointed to their maimed and crooked limbs, and begged with their pleading eyes for charity! We had invoked a spirit we could not lay. They hung to the horses’s tails, clung to their manes and the stirrups, closed in on every aide in scorn of dangerous hoofs — and out of their infidel throats, with one accord, burst an agonizing and most infernal chorus: “Howajji, bucksheesh! howajji, bucksheesh! howajji, bucksheesh! bucksheesh! bucksheesh!” I never was in a storm like that before…. …Squalor and poverty are the pride of Tiberias. The young women wear their dower strung upon a strong wire that curves downward from the top of the head to the jaw — Turkish silver coins which they have raked together or inherited. Most of these maidens were not wealthy, but some few had been very kindly dealt with by fortune. I saw heiresses there worth, in their own right — worth, well, I suppose I might venture to say, as much as nine dollars and a half. But such cases are rare. When you come across one of these, she naturally puts on airs. She will not ask for bucksheesh. She will not even permit of undue familiarity. She assumes a crushing dignity and goes on serenely practicing with her fine-tooth comb and quoting poetry just the same as if you were not present at all. Some people can not stand prosperity." Then he drescribes Ein Dor (Endor). "We rode a little way up a hill and found ourselves at Endor, famous for its witch. Her descendants are there yet. They were the wildest horde of half-naked savages we have found thus far. They swarmed out of mud bee-hives; out of hovels of the dry-goods box pattern; out of gaping caves under shelving rocks; out of crevices in the earth. In five minutes the dead solitude and silence of the place were no more, and a begging, screeching, shouting mob were struggling about the horses’ feet and blocking the way. ”Bucksheesh! bucksheesh ! bucksheesh! howajji, bucksheesh !” It was Magdala over again… Dirt, degradation and savagery are Endor’s specialty. We say no more about Magdala and Deburieh now. Endor heads the list. It is worse than any Indian campoodie. The hill is barren, rocky, and forbidding. No sprig of grass is visible, and only one tree. This is a fig-tree, which maintains a precarious footing among the rocks at the mouth of the dismal cavern once occupied by the veritable Witch of Endor. [Twain, Ch. 51.] Another question of importance is why were the Palestinians and other Arab populations so poor. Were they exploited by the Ottoman Empire? Or did Ottoman regulations prevent economic development. A major factor was that the Palestinians were largely uneducated. The population received little or no formal education and there were no institutions of hihjer education. The Palestinians like most Arab people within the Ottoman Empire had not entered the modern age. An understanding of the economic situation during the Ottoman era is important to understand to place developments during the 20th century in context.

Education

We have some basic information about education in Ottoman Palestine. Public education in The Ottoman Empire was late to develop and even in the early-20th century and was available to only a very small part of the population. This mean that the great bulk of the lrgely rural Arab-Muslim population. They as a result were uneducated and mostly iliterate. The situation was different for Christians and Jews who established private schoolds and as a result were better educated. Some mosques sponsored Islamic education theough what we now call madrasahs. They taught, however, only a small number of children and fee were required. Educational achievement was very low. One Arab observer expressed it with the statement, "culture in this country is dead". This was an Arab view written by the editor of a Jerusalem newspaper in 1912. [Ayalon, p. 17.] Literacy among the Arab-Muslim population may have been as low as 2 percent--although somewhat higher among young people as the public schools founded in the late-19th century had begon to teach some children. This was a general problem throughout the Ottoman Empire, although Palestine may have been among the areas with the poorest and least educated population. Secular education was more advanced in the Christian areas of the Empire. The Christain schools were private. Although Christians were a minority within the Empire, more Christians attended secular schools than Muslims. [Stone, p. 95.] Many of the Christian schools received support from foreign church and charitable organizatuins. This resulted in greater economic success for Christians in areas of mixed population such as Constsntinople and resentment among Muslims. Palestinians at the time of the Aran-Israeli Conflict (1948) seem to have had a higher educational level than many other Arab national groups. We believe a factor here is the Christian Palestinians, although our information is still very limited. Private Christian schools were founded in Palestine during the Ottoman Empire. Another factor was probanly the British expansion of the public dschools during the Mandatory era. Both may have influenced the relatively secular outlook of Palestinians at least before the rise of Hamas. The situation is different for the early Zionist settlers who founded schools. While Jews, many of the early Zionists were secular and wanted secular schools for their children. The Alliance Israélite Universelle in Paris was an early supporter of Jewish education in Palestine. The schools they founded taught in the French language. Beginning after the turn-of-the 20th century, the Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden (Welfare Society of German Jews) provided assistance for largely secular Jewish schools in Palestine. Their schools were bilengual, teaching in Hebrew and German. They worked with both German and Ottoman officials. [Rinott, p. 294.] German officials saw this an a way of promoting German culture in the Ottoman Empire, a country which the Germans were cultivating as a potential ally. The Ottomans apparently saw improving education as helpful in modernization efforts. In only a short time before World War I, the Hilfsverein group had established a substantial network of Jewish schools in Palestine. It included kindergartens, primary schools, a normal (teacher's) school, a seminar for kindergarten teachers, a commercial high school, and a rabinical college. Most of the Hilfsverein schools were in Jerusalem. They came to serve about half the Jewish children attending secular schools. There were plans to open a technical college (Technicum) in Haifa (1914). The opening was delayed, however, because of differences between Hilfsverein and Zionist Jews over the principal language of instruction. TThe Hilfsverein wanted German used while the local Jews wanted Hebrew. his was an issue which had to rise eventually concerning Jewish education. Zionism brought Jews of many nationlities to Palestine. German Jews were a small minority, in part because Jews in Germany had considerable freedom and opportunity. And other European Jews did not want their children taught in German which few of them spoke. Hebrew was a loogical compromise, a lengua franca for the Jews of various nationalities. The problem was that there were few books and teaching material available in Hebrew. These foreign founded schools operated largely independent from Ottoman control. Only after the Young Turks revolution, did authorities begin tontajke an interest in foreign schools (1908).

The Palestinian Arab Role in the Empire

The Palestinian Arab population played a role in the political reforms seeking to modernize the Ottoman Empire (1876 and 1908). Palestiniaqn Arabs had many important political and military posts under Ottoman rule. The Ottoman Empire was evolving in the late 19th century and the plitical reforms resulted in a constitution and parliment. There were Arab representatives in the Parliament. In the first Parliament, the President of the Council of the House of Representatives was a Jerusalem Deputy , Yusif Dia Pasha Al Khalidi.

Organization

Ottoman Palestine consisted of two administrative areas. There was the autnomous Sanjak (district) of Jerusalem which was subject to the High Porte in Constantinople. The Sanjak included an area from Jaffa to the River Jordan in the East and from the Jordan south to the borders of Egypt. The other area was part of the Willayat (province) of Beirut. This part was composed of the Sanjak of Balka (Nablus) from Jaffa to Jenin, and the Sanjak of Acre, which extended from Jenin to Naqura. The administration of Arab territories was entrusted to elected Administrative Councils. Those Councils were elected and existed in the provinces, districts, and sub-districts. Those Councils were vested with extensive powers in administration, finance, education, and development.

Slavery

The institution of African slavery was ended in the estern World during the 19th century. The British Royal Navy played a key role in ending the Africam slave trade. And slavery itself was ended by Britain (1834), America (1863), and Brazil (1888). The British first focused on ending the Atlantic slave trade. They also worked in the Indian Ocean and wider Middle East, this proved a more difficult undertaking, primarily because the Arabs, Ottomans, and Persians resisted the abolition of slavery. There were as in the West, economic reasons for slavery. The principal reason slavery persisted longer in the Muslim world, however, seems to have been the Koranic foundation of slavery. Palestine since the 16th century was part of the Ottoman Empire. Even before the Ottoman Empire conqquered Palestine and other Arab areas, there was an important slave market in Gaza. Within the Ottoman Empire, slavery survived as a legal institution into the 20th century, although it was largely abolished. Arabs in particular resisted Ottoman efforts to end slavery. (Slavery survived in Arab successor states like Saudi Arabia. The Saudis did not abloish slavery until 1961, in large part because of American diplomatic presure.) Arab slave holding thus peristed in Palestine into the 20th slavery. After World War I, the British attempted to finally end slavery in Palestine. Slavery was not finally ended, however, until the the Isreali-Palestinian War (1948-49) and the creation of Isreal, the period the Palestinians refer to as the "Nakba"--the catastrophe. Palestinian attitudes towards black Africans and slavery appear to be wide spread Arab attitudes, although there are differences among modern Arab countries. The Arabs referred to black Africans as "Abed" - which literally meant slave. There was a clear tendency to value slave on a racial basis. And among black African slaves there were varying degrees of inferiority. Ethiopians for reasons we do not yet fully understand were considered superior to other Africans. There are descendents of these former African slaves among the Bedouin in the Negev and Palestinians in Gaza. And there remains a continuing social stigma refflected in racial aditutudes. Many lighter-skined Palestinians refused to marry darker-skined individuals who may be of African slave ancestry. These lingering social aditudes are most pronounced in Gaza where slavery was more important thn in the West Bank. [Beckerleg]

Zionist Projects


Young Turks

The Ottoman Empire was, however, by the 19th century politically unstable. While the Empire was controlled by Turks, they were a minority within the Empire which included large number of Balkan Christians, Armenians, and Arabs. The Young Turks that seized control of the Government were not about to relinquish control to non-Turkish groups. Palestine remained under Ottoman rule until World War I.

World War I

World War I broke out in Europe (August 1914). Palestine at the beginning of the War was a part of the Ottoman Empire. The population was largely Arab with some Jewish settlements as a result of the European Zionist movement. The Germans sought to bring the declining Ottoman Empire into the War to draw Russian and British resources from the two main fronts of the War. The Ottomans joined the Central Powers (October 1914). They had suffered significan territorial losses in the Balkans and the Caucauses at the hands of the Russians and saw allying themselves with the Germans was one way of regaining lost territory from the beleagered Russians. The War quickly turned into a disaster when the Ottoman army invading the Russian Causcasses was decisively defeated. The Ottomons launched an offensive from Palestine soon after entering the War (November 1914). They crossed the Sinai and at some locations reached the Suez Canal, but were beaten back by the British. The British encoraged an Arab Revolt in Arabia which developed into a major threat to the Ottomans. The Arab Revolt assisted by T.E. Lawrence helped weakened the Ottomon position in Arabia and Palestine. Palestine turned from an Ottoman backwater into the frontline of World war I. The British made commitments to the Arabs about an independent Arab state after the War. They made condflictging commitments to their French ally. Zionists were initially split by the War. There were Zionists in all the major beligerant powers. The Balfour Declaration would largely change this. Thr British mounted a major offensive Against the Ottomans in Palestine. The British Egyptian Expeditionary Force commanded by Field Marshall Edmund Allenby af first made little progress against the Ottomons. The British finally took Jerusalem (December 1917). Australian Light Cavalry played an important role. The Ottomon Army in the Levant was was finally broken at the Battle of Megiddo (September 1918). The British with the Arab Army on its right then moved to seize Damascus. The British during the War made conflicting commitments to the Arabs, Zionists, and even the French. The result was that after the War they found maintaing order in the Palestine Mandate a very difficult under takibng. The Palestinian Arabs were unwilling to participate in Mandate institutions. Palestine Under the Ottoman Empire

Arab Revolt

It is difficut to know the political attitudes of Palestinians to Ottoman rule. It was from the desert tribes, supported by the British, however, that effective resistace to Ottoman rule came after the Ottomans entered the War on the side of the Central Powers. Sharif Husayn encouraged by his correspondence with the British launched the fmed Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire June 5, 1916). Husayn declared himself "King of the Arabs" (October 1916). The Arab revolt in the Hejaz broke out, surprising the Ottomans (June 5, 1916). British and French agents played a major role in inducung the Arab rising. The Arab Revolt, led chiefly by Col. T.E. Lawrence, Emir Faisal, and his father Sherif Hussein, "King of the Hejaz". The first major success was tsking the Ottoman garison at Aqaba. The Arab Revolt broke out in full force (January-September 1918). The Arabs took control of Arabia cutting rail lines. Isolated Ottoman garrisons were besieged throughout the Peninsula. The Ottomans hard pressed by the British in Palestine were unable to deal with the Arab Revolt.

Sources

Ayalon, Ami. "Modern texts and their readers in late Ottoman Palestine, " Middle Eastern Studies Vol. 38, No. 4 (October 2002), pp. 17-40.

Beckerleg, Susan. Translated by Salah Al Zaroo. Hidden History: The Origins and Status of African Palestinians.

Rinott, Moshe. "Capitulations: The case of the German-Jewish Hilfsverein Schools in Palestine, 1901-1914," in David Kushner, ed. Palestine in the Late Ottoman Period: Political, Social, and Economic Transformation pp. 294-301.

Stone, Norman, "Turkey in the Russian mirror," in Mark and Ljubica Erickson, eds. (London 2004), pp. 86-100.

Twain, Mark. Inocents Abroad.






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Created: 4:41 PM 1/17/2007
Last updated: 10:53 PM 4/2/2011